Molson Indy: renamed, but still stinky

Calling it the Molson “Grand Prix” won’t change its subliminal offer: “Drink Beer, Drive Fast (hat tip to Tim Gleason).

It’s not just that we object to folks driving drunk. We object to folks driving at all.

And there are plenty who agree with us. Take Michael Smith, for example:

Drunk driving, vs. driving-drunk

by Michael Smith

A keen judge of human nature once observed that the Puritans disliked bear-baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators. A similar phenomenon is at work in the moralists’ campaign against drunk driving. If the moralists cared about the bear — in this case, people killed or injured by cars — they’d be more worried about driving tout court, rather than just the drunk variety.

Indeed, the incoherence of the moralists’ position is obvious to the most casual inspection. One hears, over and over, statistics of the following form: “In X% of traffic fatalities, alcohol is involved.” So what about the other 100 minus X? What are they, chopped liver? — Well, close enough, in many cases. Sorry about that. But you see the point. Because they were catapulted into the next world by a sober driver, that’s OK with the moralists.

There’s a more subtle lapse of logic here, too: That X% comes from analyzing the breath — or the tissue — of drivers involved in crashes. In X% of cases, there’s found to be some threshold amount of alcohol present (choose your own threshold value; one’s as arbitrary as another). So the assumption is made that because the booze is there, it must have caused the accident — or, more slyly, “contributed” to it (sorry, I already contributed at the office, as they say down at the Department of Transportation).

Now how can the causality be known? Well, the only statistical way you could even begin to establish a case for it would be to compare the alcohol in the blood of drivers who are involved in accidents, with the alcohol in the blood of drivers who reach their destinations without being involved in accidents. In other words, you’d have to know the background before you could tell anything at all from that X% you get from your Breathalyzer or your pathologist.

But nobody, as far as I can see, ever points this fact out; nor has anybody ever tried to measure the background number. So what we know about the importance of alcohol as a factor in car crashes is… precisely zero.

Then what’s with all the hysteria? The explanation has to be sought in the realm of psychology.

On some level, I think, we all know what a damned incubus the car has become. Movies tell the tale: cars get crushed, impaled, filleted, incinerated and drowned only less often than attractive young women. At the same time, of course, this realization cannot be permitted into the light of consciousness. The car remains a supremely potent fetish object, and the repository of a huge quantity of alienated libido — including that most volatile and high-octane form of libido, narcissistic libido. (An old girlfriend of mine, years ago, had a recurring dream in which her car turned into a bathing suit. A slinky, red bathing suit.)

In a situation like this, a common mechanism of resolution is the splitting of the loved and hated object into two objects, a good one and a bad one. (Think of Melanie Klein and the idea of the “good breast” and the “bad breast.” — Okay, don’t if you’d rather not.) The bad driver is the drunk driver, the good driver is the sober driver. Everything would be hunky-dory if it weren’t for the bad drivers — except, of course, for those 100 minus X% of the corpses; but presumably we just chalk them up to the will of God, or the laws of Nature, or the inexorable but ultimately beneficent Invisible Hand of the Magical Market.

I have a different paradigm. I think that instead of worrying about people who are driving drunk, we should worry about all the people who are driving-drunk; the people who are running around thought-impaired by the toxic influence of driving. This intoxication has a number of pathological effects on the nervous system. It makes drivers feel more important and more powerful than non-drivers, who can be bullied off the road, not just with impunity, but as of right. It shuts down the perceptual apparatus: all a driver can see of another driver is a metal shell. It impairs the capacity for projection and empathy; all the driver can imagine of another’s motives is a primitive tropism to get ahead of the rest of the traffic. It distorts the driver’s sense of space and time, and deludes him into believing that he ought to be able to get across town in ten minutes. It narrows his vision and shuts down his cognitive faculties, so that he’ll accelerate to reach a red light fifty feet ahead of him.

Compared to the drunkenness of driving itself, the additional impact of a convivial evening might well turn out to be trivial — if anybody ever studied the matter seriously, instead of just assuming that we know what’s going on. But either way, the best scenario of all would be if the driver just stayed home and mixed himself a pitcher of Martinis. The hell with the car, and the hell with the Puritans.

In our last post, which you by now have had plenty of time to memorize, we introduced the concept of “Canada’s National Sport,” namely the “batting around of the question: Who or What is Canada and how does it Differ from the U.S.A.?

It was a long post. You will be forgiven for never having reached the punchline, which was that Canada has the opportunity to redefine itself in the 21st century. No longer a thin East-west line hugging tight to the U.S. border. No longer a fun-house mirror, simultaneously more noble and more pathetic than our southern neighbour. No longer a “pasty simulacra” of the so-called fast-paced North American lifestyle. As we put it some time ago,

if people were honest with themselves, they’d admit that no one finds the so-called “speed of cars” fun for very long. In contrast to the thrill of skiing down a hill (especially one we’ve just trudged up), or bicycling (especially with a strong wind at our backs), or hurtling from a high rock into deep, cool water (we should all be so lucky), everyone knows the “speed” that cars give you is a pasty simulacra.

But the Allderblob is not just another dim critic, barking from the sideline. No, we are more: much more. We offer alternatives. We offer hope.

So in our last post, we held out an olive branch to society:

Canada in 2020 could be a place where folks take it easy, eh? We get where we’re going when we get there. We live by the words of the great philosopher Ivan Illich, who wrote in 1973 : “High speed is the critical factor which makes transportation socially destructive. A true choice among practical policies and of desirable social relations is possible only where speed is restrained. Participatory democracy demands low-energy technology, and free people must travel the road to productive social relations at the speed of a bicycle.”

What is our alternative? The Toronto Star’s Cameron Smith makes it clear we are headed for an age so dire, an age of massive storms, of floods, of fire, that our national game of self-analysis, and our concerns about whether George Bush is the real terrorist, will seem as nothing.

We are headed for a dark age.

Actually, if you follow Illich’s argument, we are already there:

The model American male devotes more than 1,600 hours a year to his car. He sits in it while it goes and while it stands idling. He parks it and searches for it. He earns the money to put down on it and to meet the monthly installments. He works to pay for gasoline, tolls, insurance, taxes, and tickets. He spends four of his sixteen waking hours on the road or gathering his resources for it. And this figure does not take into account the time consumed by other activities dictated by transport: time spent in hospitals, traffic courts, and garages; time spent watching automobile commercials [emphasis ours –ed.] or attending consumer education meetings to improve the quality of the next buy. The model American puts in 1,600 hours to get 7,500 miles: less than five miles per hour.

In other words, the quantum leaps our world has experienced has brought us exactly full circle: our mobility level, measured in miles per hour, is no greater than that of our cave-dwelling ancestors. If anything, they had a leg up on us because they had no roads, traffic, fences, or other barriers to dictate their path of travel. They had no disconnected culs-de-sac and no meandering collector road to negotiate between them and dinner. For them, it was “as the crow flies” all the way [and actually, the crow was dinner –ed.].

But what could make that transition to “slow culture” possible, on a large scale? How could it happen in a country as large and yes, as thinly stretched to the U.S. border as Canada?

This is the question you, dear reader, must be asking yourself.

But one thing is clear: as we slide down the back of Hubbert’s Peak (the peak in world-wide oil production is said to have happened in November, 2005) it’s too late, as Kevin Deffeyes puts it, to “put on the brakes.”

What’s not too late is a change of vehicle.

Join the ranks of cyclists (drunk or sober), and enjoy the ride!

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